Headlined by an unprecedented four league specialty award winners and five first-team selections, a total of eight Missouri State baseball players were selected for All-Missouri Valley Conference honors Tuesday by the league’s head coaches, who also tapped MSU head coach Keith Guttin as MVC Coach of the Year. Junior pitcher Jon Harris was voted MVC Pitcher of the Year, while senior co-captain Joey Hawkins was tabbed the Valley’s Defensive Player of the Year and third baseman Jake Burger was named the league’s top rookie as Freshman of the Year.
Missouri State’s five selections for the Valley’s top postseason squad, including Burger and Harris, as well as junior pitcher Matt Hall, junior outfielder Tate Matheny and sophomore closer Bryan Young, brings the Bears’ total number of First-Team All-MVC honorees to 81 since MSU joined the league in 1991.
Guttin’s selection as MVC Coach of the Year marks the fifth occasion he has been picked for the honor after previously earning the award in 1993, 2001, 2003 and 2008. The Bears’ 33rd year bench boss picked up his 1,100th career victory with MSU’s March 17 win over UALR, and has guided MSU to its highest ranking ever with 41 wins in 51 contests this spring–good for an .804 win percentage, which ranks fifth nationally and matches the program’s best mark in a single season. The Bears’ regular-season MVC title is their fourth since joining the Valley and their eighth regular-season conference title overall Guttin, who ranks as the second-winningest coach in MVC history and 13th on the NCAA’s Division I wins list for active coaches with a career record of 1,130-716 (.612).
Harris is the sixth Bears hurler to be honored as the top mound performer in the Valley and the fourth MSU pitcher to receive the award since 2008. The Florissant, Mo., product leads all MVC starting pitchers in overall ERA (2.08) and opponent batting average (.198), while ranking third in total strikeouts (99) and 10th in victories (6). The junior right-hander, who was one of 60 players named to the midseason USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award watch list, fronts a distinguished group of First-Team All-MVC pitchers that also includes fellow Bears Hall and Young. Harris was nearly untouchable in league play, holding Valley foes to a .145 batting mark while reaching double-digit strikeout totals in four of his six MVC starts while posting a 4-0 record and 1.70 ERA in conference action.
Burger becomes the fifth Missouri State rookie to garner MVC Freshman of the Year laurels in the last seven seasons, joining a group that includes fellow first-team pick Matheny on the Bears’ list of distinguished rookies. The MVC’s freshman leader in hits (68), total bases (103), RBI (40), batting average (.335), doubles (20) and triples (3), Burger has been a driving force in the Bears’ lineup throughout the season, ranking among the conference’s top 10 individuals in a number of statistical categories, including his MSU freshman record of 20 doubles, which led all Valley players. His 22 multi-hit games are the third most in the league and his 10 multi-RBI games rank first among all league rookies. Burger has reached base safely in all but five games this season and becomes the eighth Missouri State player to earn the league’s Freshman of the Year honor dating back to Ryan Howard’s selection in 1999.
A mainstay on the Bears’ infield for four years, Hawkins heads the Valley’s All-Defensive Team in addition to earning Second-Team All-MVC recognition along with sophomore first baseman Justin Paulsen. Hawkins, the first Missouri State player to earn the MVC’s top defensive honor, has anchored the MSU defense with a steady hand at shortstop this spring, recording a .978 fielding percentage and a conference-high 167 defensive assists to help the Bears post a Valley-best .976 team fielding percentage. The senior from Whitby, Ontario brings an active streak of 147 consecutive starts into this week’s MVC Championship after setting a Bears’ single-season record last spring with 185 assists. Additionally, his 29 double-play turns in good for seventh in the conference this year.
Matheny repeats as a First-Team All-MVC choice after hitting .296 with four home runs and 34 runs batted-in during the regular season while starting all 51 games in center field. The junior has been solid in the field as well, registering a .992 fielding percentage to earn his second-consecutive MVC All-Defensive Team nod. The St. Louis native ranks 18th on MSU’s career hits list with 207, while his season total of 12 steals, 31 walks and 16 hit by pitches all rank among the top 10 in the conference.
Joining Burger, Harris and Matheny as first-team picks are Hall and Young, who have formed a potent nucleus on the MSU pitching staff, which led the Valley with a 2.17 team ERA in league play. Hall shattered the Bears’ single-season strikeout record and enters the MVC Tournament just 30 K’s shy of the conference’s all-time single-season mark. The junior from Lee’s Summit, Mo., leads the Bears with nine victories, while his 2.38 ERA ranks second only to Harris among all Valley starting pitchers. He has logged six double-digit strikeout totals in his 14 starts this year and leads the league with 98.1 innings pitched.
Young, one of 39 players named to the NCBWA’s Stopper of the Year Award watch list, has saved 12 games while posting a 7-0 mound mark and a 1.01 earned run average in 25 appearances. The junior from Kansas City needs just one more save to match the school’s single-season record shared by Shaun Marcum (2003) and Dan Kickham (2011) and will bring an active streak of 18.0 consecutive scoreless innings into the league tournament.
Paulsen has enjoyed a strong debut season for Missouri State at first base, bringing a .280 average–including a .324 mark in league play–and a team-high seven home runs into this week’s MVC Championship. The Ballwin, Mo., product has totaled 39 RBIs to rank 10th in the Valley, while his total of 36 bases on balls is the fifth-highest in the league.
MSU senior infielder Dylan Becker also the first all-conference recognition of his MSU career with his honorable mention citation. The Leawood, Kan., native stepped into the starting role at second base after two-time All-MVC performer Eric Cheray went down with an ankle injury in late February. Becker is the third-leading hitter on the squad with a .315 season mark, while his 46 walks rank second in the circuit and 12th nationally.
Ranked as high as No. 8 in this week’s national polls, the top-seeded Bears (41-10, 18-3 MVC) will begin their quest for a third MVC Tournament title, beginning with Wednesday’s (May 20) opening-round meeting with No. 8 seed Southern Illinois at 4 p.m. The tournament originates from Eck Stadium in Wichita and continues through Saturday’s championship game, which will determine the winner of the Valley’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Story courtesy-Missouri State Athletics